Twenty-three kindergarten bodies with prying eyes silently interrogated us. Stranger danger.
My husband and I smiled weakly. An invisible force field in the shape of their teacher kept the horde from attacking. We shifted nervously in Lilliputian chairs. Each side played a tension-fraught guessing game. Who would blink first?
The tension was tempered by fatigue. Fortunately for us, sweaty hair plastered to foreheads signaled that recess was over and we wouldn’t be overrun – today.
Suddenly one bundle of intensity broke through the impasse; our son had made eye contact with us. My husband and I tried unsuccessfully to restrain our son from leaving the line. After hugs were exchanged and his classmates had identified us as belonging to Danny, we filed into the room.
Walking into the classroom amidst a sea of waist-high personalities reminded me that it takes a special person to teach at this level. My husband and I both work at the other end of the K-12 spectrum, and even though there are parallels between kindergartners and high school seniors, 5-year-olds take special consideration. A range of abilities exists in each classroom, but think about what kinds of skills this age group has, or more importantly, the ones they don’t have.
Kindergartners have challenges like buttoning up pants and opening up cheese stick packages. They have a tendency to tell “jokes,” missing the punchline by one word, and to laugh hysterically when someone toots. Five-year-olds lisp their letters, so it’s hard tell if they are saying, “white” or “light.” They have infinite energy focused into tongues sticking out in concentration while writing their names, and sometimes they wait too long to go potty.
Teaching this group is more like herding fleas; cats at least sit down sometimes.
In the few moments that my husband and I observed – no, marveled at – this classroom, we continued to glance over at each other, amazed. In 45 minutes, we saw students come in, get out materials, practice coloring spiders and listen to a poem. We also witnessed Danny lead a discussion on his science project, and we proudly watched as 22 classmates quietly listened while he shared a favorite book with them.
At our conferences last week, Danny’s teacher shared how exciting it is to see the growth in one year, which I know must be the reward for a year of high-octane learning. Even though secondary is tough, high school teachers hold nothing to our compatriots at the other end of the spectrum. I’m not saying that teaching at any level isn’t difficult; it is. But what struck me is how much rides on this first year of schooling, especially full-day kindergarten.
Like a plane, the smoothness of the flight depends on the momentum established in those first few moments at take-off. Just knowing our son, the flight must be pretty bumpy.
We think Danny is the smartest kid in the world (even if evidence might prove otherwise), but no matter how smart a kid is, the amount of learning that must take place is mind-boggling. Learning to read, learning basic math, learning to write, learning how to behave and stay within socially acceptable boundaries are all skills that adults – okay, most of us – take for granted. By the time a person reaches high school, he has a pretty good idea of what these skills look like, even if he hasn’t mastered them.
My point is that kindergarten teachers are a special group of people who need our appreciation and support. I, for one, found myself in awe during my short visit because of what the teacher was able to get very young children to do. And even better, she loved up each kid.
This part really impressed me because it makes sending my 5-year-old to school that much easier knowing that there is a caring, loving adult who will be with him, guiding him and looking out for his better interests. Thank you to kindergarten teachers everywhere who spend this kind of time with our children, and especially to Mrs. Beatty for teaching our son.
Casey Silbaugh of Tacoma, an educator of 15 years, is one of five reader columnists whose work appears on this page. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.